There are more than 1,000 school districts in the state of Texas and no two districts are the same. An urban district with tens of thousands of students has a different set of challenges than a rural one that serves only a few dozen.
And yet, the leaders of these districts often find that they have a lot in common, including the same goal: Educating students and preparing them for the future. With that objective, it’s no surprise that school boards across the state share similar issues and priorities.
Finding the issues
During January through March of this year, TASB hosted Grassroots Meetings across the state. Held in even-numbered years, these meetings are the first step in creating TASB’s Advocacy Agenda, the action plan it uses to advocate at the Capitol on behalf of Texas school boards.
Every school board member in Texas has a chance to make their voice heard by attending a Grassroots Meeting. During these meetings, school leaders work together to come up with the top priorities for their region.
The biggest issues right now
TASB Talks podcast host Kay Douglas recently interviewed Dax González, division director of TASB Governmental Relations, about the issues that rose to the top of trustee conversations during Grassroots Meetings. These are the public education concerns that are most top-of-mind for school leaders now.
Teacher recruitment and retention
By and large, teacher recruitment and retention were the biggest concerns across the state. Large or small, rural or urban, all school districts are struggling to find and keep staff.
González said that, unfortunately, while this is a common and well-known problem, there aren’t a lot of solutions.
The State has recognized the severity of this challenge, with the Texas Education Agency recently forming a Teacher Vacancy Task Force.
Another common issue facing public schools is the mental health of students and teachers. After two years of pandemic-related stressors, including continued uncertainty, isolation, and safety risks, it’s no wonder metal health issues are affecting the classroom. “Our teachers are really suffering coming out of the pandemic,” González said.
School board members and administrators had talks about obtaining resources to help teachers and students cope with various stressors.
The pandemic has had a negative effect on student enrollment and attendance. Schools are funded based on their average daily attendance, which means COVID-related absences can hurt the bottom line.
Although funding will remain level for this year, financial concerns are almost certain to continue to be top-of-mind for districts.
The last several months have seen efforts by some groups to push “school choice,” or vouchers. School vouchers would take public tax dollars from local independent school districts and let them be used for private school or homeschooling.
During Grassroots Meetings, many school board members expressed their opposition to vouchers because they would take much-needed funds from public schools and give the money to institutions with no accountability for how those funds get used.
"We've built a whole state accountability system around our public schools to monitor and measure how our schools are doing, how they're spending public tax dollars,” González said. “We have a whole financial rating system in addition to the academic accountability system. There's just so much transparency around public school spending. Yet, we're going to turn around and give money away with NO accountability whatsoever."
González said the Grassroots Meetings discussions around charters was typically localized to urban and suburban areas. The main concern of school leaders when it comes to charters is the lack of transparency around charter school operations and governance. For example, there’s been a lot of talk about making school board meetings more accessible to parents. Yet charter school boards are not locally elected and the appointed members may not even live anywhere near the school.
Listen to TASB Talks: Lege Update
Listen to the full podcast episode to hear more from González, including what you as a public school advocate can do now to help. Subscribe to TASB Talks wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss an episode.
TASB Talks: Lege Update April 2022
This article was published on April 7, 2022.